Photo Credit Jan Garrison
CGA students hear real-life lessons in leadership
March 2, 2016
Senior prefects ---, Clare Nowalk, and Meranda Ma do a reading during the Culver Women's Celecration event Tuesday evening.

Senior prefects Julia Hernandez, Clare Nowalk, and Meranda Ma do a reading during the Culver Women’s Celebration event.

The four women spanned three generations. They had never met until Tuesday night. Yet, they spoke with one voice.

The 2016 Culver Women’s Celebration kicked off by honoring four women who had inspired individual girls during their lives. In November, each member of Culver Girls Academy was offered the opportunity to submit a person who inspired them. Those selected were two mothers, one aunt, and a cousin.

But all four had the same message when they spoke the CGA girls during the Eppley Auditorium event:

  • Serve others before yourself. You will receive more than you give – whether it is in business or volunteering.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is an excellent way to learn. Reflect on what went wrong and adjust.
  • Embrace change. It is going to happen. Do not be afraid to take risks. But make sure they are calculated risks.
  • Find your passion. Make sure your dream is really your dream, not someone else’s dream for you.

Linda Bi is the mother of Meranda Ma ’16 (Geneva, Ill.). She is the president of Chicago Export Importers (CEI), an export-import company based in Chicago. Bi and her husband, Leonard Ma, immigrated to the United States from China in 1982, originally setting up shop in San Francisco.

They moved to Chicago in 1996 to be closer to their suppliers. But when Leonard died in 2000, Bi was left with a business to run and two small children, Meranda and Melissa ’13. Her family urged her to sell to a competitor and move back to China, where she would be closer to family.

But, she told the audience, “I didn’t want to offend my husband’s legacy.” So she stayed. Over the next 10 years, the business grew fivefold. She did this by putting her employees and clients first, since they are the most important people.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” Bi said. “I have had my struggles. Despite it all, I still count my blessings.”

I have failed countless times. Each of those failures has taught me something.

Rashella D’Amico, the mother of Sarina McCabe ’18 (South Bend, Ind.), is a registered behavioral consultant, certified anger management specialist, and certified life coach based in South Bend, Ind. She is the lead researcher, principal investigator, and clinical consultant for Intel, the University of Notre Dame, and several community-based programs working to develop technology for tracking and managing developmental and co-morbid mental health disorders.

Prior to her work as behavior consultant, D’Amico served as birth doula and midwife assistant. This passion for women’s health and education led her to open a maternity boutique that offers designer fashions and childbirth and breastfeeding education in 2015.

But her successes have been fueled by her failures, D’Amico said. And, no matter how hard she worked, she sometimes found herself “staring smack-dab in the face of failure.

“I have failed countless times,” she said. “Each of those failures has taught me something.”

She told the girls she has three steps on how to handle failure:

  1. Learn that it is OK to fail. Don’t be afraid of “messing up.”
  2. Failure is the best way to learn. Find out where you went wrong and adjust.
  3. Anything worth doing once is worth doing a million times. “Try again, again, again, and again.”

Monica Murphy is the cousin of Amanda Kurteff ’19 (Plainfield, Ill.). After graduating from Saint Mary’s College, she spent a year doing mission work in Ghana. She has spent the past nine years writing human interest stories for various media outlets, shedding light on topics such as poverty, faith, immigration, the elderly, and leadership. She also served an internship with best-selling author Adrian Trigiani in New York City.

She uses her storytelling capabilities to teach leadership through a company called Skylight Leadership. She works with middle school, high school, non-traditional college students, teaching them character and leadership development. Murphy also has developed an iPhone application called “Beautiful You,” which is designed to empower inner beauty in women. From South Bend, Ind., she has also started a similar program for girls in the St. Joseph County Juvenile Detention Center.

Murphy challenged the girls to believe they are worthy of their dreams and to (per Emile Zola) “live your life out loud.”

But bruises make us who we are.

One of her favorite life lessons came from an elderly neighbor named Elsie. Murphy often spent the summer days helping Elsie with the housework. When it came time to pick peaches from the backyard tree, Murphy said she wanted only the best ones for the pies they were planning to bake. But Elsie questioned her.

“She asked why none of my peaches had bruises,” she said. When she explained that she only wanted the best peaches, Elsie replied, “But bruises make us who we are.”

She also learned a valuable lesson from the young girls she taught in Ghana. That was, in a broken world, it is important to keep moving forward. Do not blame the circumstances. “That was a defining moment,” Murphy said.

And in periods of self-doubt, do the things “that scare you the most.”

“Make sure your dream is really your dream,” she added, and not a dream for the “benefit of others.”

Rosario Perez is the aunt of Eugenia Perez ’16 (El Paso, Texas). Perez spent her first career working for J.P. Morgan Chase’s Latin American division. During her 25 years with the bank, she helped oversee the Chase/J.P. Morgan merger, which included 475 employees in 10 offices worldwide, $30 billion in assets, and $280 million in revenue.

After retiring, she worked on the board of Pro Mujer, a major non-profit women’s development organization noted for its work in trail-blazing new paths for low-income women to provide financial stability and high-quality healthcare for their families. Based in New York, the non-profit’s co-founder asked Peres to serve as the CEO. During her seven years, the programs have expanded to include 2,100 employees across Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru.

Learning is cumulative. You never stop learning.

Perez told the girls they should become lifetime learners. “Learning is cumulative. You never stop learning,” she said. “We should be growing and thriving all our lives.”

Perez’s defining moment came when her mother sent her and her two sisters to an American boarding school. Her mother told the nuns her daughters were not to receive any special favors when it came to learning to speak English. It was one of the hardest periods of her life, but also offered the biggest opportunity.

“I made the decision to learn English by December,” she said, and when she did that “door opened” so many opportunities later in life. That eventually led to her pursing a master’s degree in European History from Yale. She started work on her doctorate, thinking she wanted to be a college professor, but decided against that “lonely” existence. That led to be being recruited by Chase and taking business classes at New York University.

Through her business and charitable work, Perez has discovered the importance of taking risks. But they should be “calculated risks,” she said. Embracing such changes will unlock the doors to new opportunities.

And, Perez added, she has found that when you “give to others, they give back to you tenfold. There is nothing like helping others.”

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Posted in Culver Academies Leadership Student Life
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